Trevor Noah came to Montclair State campus last Friday to give a talk about his new book “Born a Crime” and kicked off the inaugural Montclair Literary Festival (MLF). The comedian and host of “The Daily Show” shared personal insights with the audience and read excerpts from his memoir.
The book revolves around his experiences growing up in South Africa under apartheid as a mixed-race child. Apartheid was a social and political system that institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination.
Under apartheid, interracial marriages were illegal, but Noah’s mother was black and his father was white. Therefore, he was kept indoors in the early years of his life, which is also where the title of the book “Born a Crime” came from.
The MLF brought local emerging writers, bestselling authors and readers together to exchange thoughts and ideas. MLF was sponsored by Succeed2gether which according to their wbsite is a non-profit organization that “aims to close the achievement gap for low-income students by providing them with free tutoring,” as well as the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) at Montclair State.
Over the course of the talk, Noah touched upon many topics such as the importance of political engagement, racism and identity. He spoke about what he tries to achieve at “The Daily Show,” which is to look at issues objectively, challenge the Trump administration and in that way practice resistance.
“Resistance does not necessarily have to be panic, resistance does not necessarily have to be rage, it does not need to be hatred. It just needs to be focused engagement,” he advised.
He also read a few excerpt from his book. Among other experiences, he described an incident when he was walking down a street as a young man and a group of Zulu men were closing in on him from behind. They thought he was a white man, because of the light color of his skin. He could hear them planning to mug him. Noah didn’t know what to do so he spontaneously turned around and said in Zulu: “Hey guys, why don’t we just mug somebody together?”
The men apologized to him saying they thought he was “something else.” “We weren’t trying to steal anything from you, we were trying to steal from white people,” they said. Noah noted that this and many other incidents in his life made him realize that language, more than color sometimes, defines who a person is to people.
Many people enjoyed the talk like senior jurisprudence major Melissa Sukniqi. “I thought it was enlightening and heartwarming. I felt like I was listening to a friend talk,” she said.
History professor Lesley Wilson thought Noah was passionate, enthusiastic and spoke with purpose. His favorite moment was when Noah read excerpts from his book. “I think they were insightful and I think the audience got lot out of it,” he said.
The Dean of the CHSS, Robert Friedman, thought having Noah come to campus was a great opportunity for students: “They get to hear his story, they get to be listening to someone who is just an amazing cultural personality and it gives them a little bit of a diversion from a Friday afternoon,” he said.
According to Friedman, Watchung Booksellers, located in the town of Montclair, had connections with Noah’s publisher, which made it possible for the festival organizers to get him to speak at the MLF. Trevor Noah received no compensation for his talk and the ticket revenues were donated to Succeed2gether.
Noah invited Friedman backstage before and after the talk. “He was thankful for the invitation and thankful for the audience and he said this was just wonderful,” Friedman said.
“He was a very nice man, I think his worldly experience shapes his generosity of spirit that he has got. It’s all over him. You can see it in what he says, how he says it, how he looks at you.”